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From 1639 to 1664, the period during which the colony was under the government of the West India Company, the Dutch Church in the New Netherlands was the established church. But in 1664, the colony surrendered to the forces of the British army, and came under the government of the Duke of York. To the Dutch inhabitants, however, though they lost their church establishment, yet at the time of the surrender, and afterwards in the treaty of peace, concluded in 1676, it was expressly stipulated, that the "rights of conscience with regard to worship and discipline," should be secured to them.
At the last mentioned period, the Dutch constituted the mass of the population in the state. In the colony, there were but few Episcopalians. These chiefly resided in the city of New York, and in the country immediately adjacent. They consisted, for the most part, of the officers of government and their dependants, and a portion of the military force. Indeed, the same was true of them elsewhere. Even in Maryland and Virginia, subsequently to the period of which we now speak, in all the more newly settled counties, the people for the most part were of other communions. Moreover, the Dutch were as well pre-eminent in wealth, as predominant in numbers, and embraced within the pale of their church, some of the most distinguished men in the colony, among whom was Governor Stuyvesant-a name as illustrious in our history, as it is rendered familiar to our ear, by those of his distinguished descendants of our city who still bear it.
Such was the situation of the Dutch Church, from 1664 to 1693. During the interval from 1639 to the year last mentioned, a number of churches were organized, besides those in New Amsterdam, Flatbush, New Utrecht, Flatlands, Esopus, and Albany; the ministers of the oldest and most conspicuous of which, viz. New Amsterdam, Esopus, and Albany, claimed and enjoyed a kind of episcopal dignity, having all the churches round them under their care, especially those which were not furnished with pastors; a prerogative exercised by them, not, as we may suppose, out of any leaning towards Diocesan Episcopacy, but that, under the circumstances, such supervision was deemed by them, not only expedient, but necessary.
Thus much, in reference to the church affairs of the emigrant Hollanders, is deemed essential to a proper understanding of the position of the Episcopal Church in this early period of the colony. The year 1693 marks the first step of her advance to ecclesiastical distinction. Under the auspices of "Colonel Benjamin Fletcher, who had been appointed governor the year before, a man of great ardour and boldness, and warmly attached to the Episcopal Church," a foundation was laid for a church establishment in her favour, which had been
lost to the Dutch since the surrender of the colony in 1664. To this measure the House of Assembly was at first decidedly hostile; and nought but the untiring vigilance of the governor secured the passage of an act in its favour. In Maryland and Virginia also, where, as we have said, the Episcopal Church was much more numerous, it had legal establishments for its support.
The advantages thence arising to the Episcopal Church, however, were not so great as might be supposed. Separated from the mother church by the Atlantic, with an unavoidably inefficient episcopal supervision;* the difficulties of obtaining regular and proper supplies of ministers for the churches; the consequent absence of wholesome discipline, and the constant jealousies of the proprietary government, particularly that of Maryland, of an encroachment of its ecclesiastical prerogatives by the Bishop of London; all tended in no small degree to cripple her otherwise inherent energies. In a word, she was virtually without an episcopal head, as the source of a regular supply of all the orders of the ministry, as recognised by her ecclesiastical system. That system, as is well known, involves the principle, that a succession from the apostles in the order of bishops, as an order distinct from, and superior to, presbyters, is a requisite without which a valid Christian ministry cannot be preserved.
At this stage of our advance, it becomes necessary to advert to the existence of another religious body, a knowledge of the circumstances of whose early origin and career in the colonies, as claiming an affinity, at least, to the order of ministry and polity of the Episcopal Church, is requisite to a proper view of the position of that church at the period to which we have just alluded. This body was the society of Methodists. Originating first in England, the seeds of Methodism were transplanted to the American colonies by their joint founders, the two Wesleys, John and Charles, who came to this country in the capacity of missionaries, in company with Gen. Oglethorpe, and arrived in Georgia, A. D. 1736. John took the charge of Savannah, and Charles of Frederica. Within a year and a half, however, they returned to England.
These clergymen were both regularly ordained presbyters of the English Episcopal Church. In the exercise of their functions, however, whether at home or abroad, their ministrations were adapted to what they considered a state of general declension of the life and power of religion in the established church. Their course, conse
* The Bishop of London was considered as the diocesan of the Episcopal Churches in America.
quently, was marked by peculiarities which were deemed inconsistent with long established usages; and after their return, as above related, they were no longer permitted to preach in the churches." They then had recourse to private houses, and adopted the system of field preaching. In the American colonies, their followers adopted a similar course. Multitudes in both countries attended upon their ministrations, and of those who officiated by the sufferance of the elder of the two brothers, the Rev. John Wesley, the reputed founder of the society.
The Rev. Charles Wesley, speaking of these times in a letter to the Rev. Dr. Chandler, bearing date April 28, 1785, says of himself and his brother, that "Their only design was to do all the good they could, as ministers of the Church of England, to which they were firmly attached, both by education and principle." Again speaking of himself, he says "I never lost my dread of a separation, or ceased to guard our society against it." To which he adds: "I frequently told them, I am your servant as long as you remain members of the Church of England, but no longer. Should you ever forsake her, you renounce me.'" And, if we may judge from his nine notable "reasons for not separating from the church," as occasioned by the discovery of an early indication on the part of some of his lay-preachers to do so, the Rev. John Wesley was, during the most of his long, arduous, and eventful life, less opposed to such an event than his brother Charles. We regret that our limits will not allow us to transcribe them. We have only space for the following quotations, with which they are closed. Mr. Wesley says-"We look upon ourselves, not as the authors or ringleaders of a particular sect or party." "This would exceedingly obstruct the grand design for which we conceive God has raised them (the Methodists,) up." "We look upon the clergy, (i. e. of the English Church,) not only as part of our brethren, but as that part whom God, by his adorable providence, has called to be watchmen over the rest, for whom, therefore, they are to give a strict account." He also urges as a "prudential rule," that neither preachers nor people frequent any dissenting meeting, which, he says, "is actually separating from the church." And, he adds-"If it be said, ' But at the church we are fed with chaff; whereas, at the meeting we have wholesome food:' we answer-1st. The prayers of the church are not chaff; they are substantial food for any who are alive to God. 2d. The Lord's Supper is not chaff; but pure and wholesome for all who receive it with upright hearts. Yea,-3d. In almost all the sermons, we hear there, we hear many great and important truths. And whoever
has a spiritual discernment, may easily separate the chaff from the wheat therein." And 4th. As to the dissenters, they were either "new-light men," (Socinians,) or "predestinarians;" sufficient reasons, in his view, why they should avoid them. In conclusion, Mr. Wesley says: "In order to cut off all jealousy and suspicion from our friends, and hope from our enemies, of our having any design to separate from the church, it would be well for every Methodist preacher to attend the service of the church as often as conveniently he can." Adding: "The more we attend it, the more we love it, as constant experience shows," &c.
In England, the ordinary ministrations of the two Wesleys seem to have been conducted in strict accordance with the above principles. Writing to Dr. Chandler as above, the Rev. Charles Wesley says: "When we were no longer permitted to preach in the churches, we preached (but never in church hours,) in houses, or fields, and sent from thence, or rather carried, multitudes to church, who had never been there before. Our society, in most places, made the bulk of the congregation both at prayers and sacrament."
It is to be recollected, that at this period, and for a long time after, the preachers of the Methodist connexion in England, being only laymen, made no attempt at an infringement of the prerogatives of the established clergy. The same is true of those of them connected with the American colonies. Before the revolutionary war, they neither administered the sacraments, nor celebrated the rites of marriage. They considered themselves in no other light than as preachers of a religious society composed chiefly of members of the Episcopal Church, then called "The Church of England." They disclaimed the name of dissenters, as strenuously as the founders of their society had done.
In view of the above facts, therefore, the following question presents itself: Wherefore this dread on the part of these two eminent men, of a separation of the members of their society in England and in America, from the Church of England?
Our only source of reply is, the fact of their belief in, and practice of, the principle of Episcopacy,-that a succession from the apostles in the order of bishops, as an order distinct from, and superior to, presbyters, is a requisite, without which a valid Christian ministry cannot be preserved. On this subject the Rev. John Wesley, in his "Farther appeal to men of reason and religion," addressed the members of the Church of England in the following words:
"We do not dispute concerning any of the externals or circumstantials of religion. There is no room; for we agree with you
therein. We approve of, and adhere to them all; all that we learned together when we were children, in our catechism, and common prayer book. We were born and bred up in your own church, and desire to die therein. . . . We approve both the doctrines and discipline of our church, and inveigh only against ungodliness and unrighteousness," &c..
Now if we turn either to the English or the American "Book of Common Prayer," in the "preface" to the "form and manner of making, ordaining, and consecrating bishops, priests, and deacons,” we find the following:
"It is evident unto all men, diligently reading holy scripture and ancient authors, that from the apostles' times there have been these orders of ministers in Christ's Church-bishops, priests, and deacons.”
In accordance with the above, the Methodists in this country have declared the episcopal form of government to be the most excellent, and have adopted three distinct offices of ordination, for three distinct orders of ministers, viz: bishops or superintendents, elders or presbyters, and deacons. Thus, or to the following effect, in the office of deacons, they say, "O God, who hast appointed divine orders in thy church," &c.; in which they pray "that God would give his grace to this his servant, now called to the office of deacon." In the office for elders or presbyters, the same passages are found, the word elder or presbyter being substituted in the place of deacon. And in the office for bishops or superintendents, these words are substituted for elder or deacon.
We come now to observe that, up to the period when peace was established between Great Britain and the States, in the year 1783, the Methodist societies in both countries, on the principles above narrated, still exhibited an aversion to a separation from "the Church of England." During the war, Mr. Francis Asbury was the most distinguished preacher among them, in the colonies; and, under Mr. Wesley, (John,) was at the head of the Methodist societies in America. But, as we are informed by Dr. Coke and Mr. More, in their "Life of Wesley," "Mr. Asbury's attachment to the Episcopal Church of England was at that time exceeding strong."
But, at the conclusion of the war, in 1783, and for some time after, the Episcopal Church in the colonies, being destitute of the episcopate, could not organize.. Added to this was the circumstance that, in the attempt to elevate the colonies to the rank of independent states, inasmuch as it involved the necessity of expunging from the Book of Common Prayer that part of it which related to the King of Great Britain, many able and worthy ministers, still cherishing their alle